Family Values Differ Sharply Around the
PRINCETON, N.J., November 7, 1997 - The Gallup Organization today reports that a poll it conducted this year in sixteen countries on four continents finds people a long way from sharing a global set of family values. In fact, what is considered morally acceptable in some countries is widely deemed immoral in others.
No Consensus on the Morality of Out-of-Wedlock
The issue generating the most varied reaction in this international Gallup survey is the morality of unmarried couples having children. Acceptance of this modern lifestyle trend ranges from 90% or more in parts of Western Europe to under 15% in Singapore and India. Evidence of major cultural differences in family values around the globe is also revealed in the wide range of opinions recorded about the ideal family size, and in gender preferences for children.
Looking at all of their opinions collectively, citizens of several countries in Western Europe, particularly Germany, Great Britain and Spain, emerge as the most liberal, or non-traditional in their outlook toward children. In contrast such Asian nations as India and Taiwan are extremely conservative. The United States fits squarely in the middle, expressing a mixture of traditional and non-traditional attitudes.
One sentiment which is generally shared across the globe is the perceived importance of having children. A majority of adults in all countries surveyed except Germany and the United States say that having children is vital to their personal sense of fulfillment.
While family values concerning children tend to differ across countries, Gallup finds that men and women within each country generally subscribe to the same values. Greater variation is seen along generational lines, but even these differences are small in comparison with those across nations.
The International Gallup Poll finds substantial variation around the world in the percent of citizens in the sixteen countries surveyed who condone having children outside of marriage. The most liberal countries on this issue -- with 90% or more of adults saying it is morally acceptable -- are Germany, France and Iceland. At the same time, very high percentages in countries such as India, Singapore and Taiwan say it is not acceptable.
The United States stands out as the country most evenly divided over the morality of out-of-wedlock births, with 47% saying it is wrong and 50% saying it is not wrong. In fact, the U.S. is the only country surveyed by Gallup in which there is not a clear majority consensus on one side or the other.
There is minimal disagreement between men and women in each country over the question of having children out of wedlock. In some countries there are generational differences, as might be suspected, with young adults (aged 18-34) expressing greater tolerance than older adults (aged 55 and older). This is particularly true in the U.S., where a majority of respondents aged 55 and older say it is morally wrong for an unmarried couple to have a baby, while a majority of young adults say it is not.
Although less so than in the U.S., a similar generational disparity is evident in Canada, Great Britain, and Spain. Less than 20% of young adults in these nations consider it wrong, compared with nearly half of adults aged 55 and older.
Less evidence of a difference in acceptance of out-of-wedlock births by age exists in India or Singapore, where the vast majority of adults of all ages disapprove of the practice. In Colombia, Germany and France, on the other hand, acceptance is extremely high throughout society, regardless of age.
Preference for Boys
When asked to say which gender they would prefer if they could have just one child, a majority of adults in half of the countries surveyed say that gender does not matter. Among respondents for whom gender does matter, the preference tends to be for a boy over a girl by a moderate margin.
This preference for a male child is particularly strong in Thailand and India, where boys are favored over girls by double-digit margins and the percentage of people saying they have no preference is quite low. In Thailand, 44% would want a boy, 27% a girl -- yielding a 17% preference for boys, with only 29% expressing no preference. In India there is a 13 percentage point preference for a boy, 40% to 27%.
In the U.S. 42% of those surveyed have no preference, but among those who do, boys are favored by a 12 point margin, 35% to 23%.
Two countries where a majority of adults have no preference whatsoever regarding gender are Spain and Iceland. In both places, a majority of people say they would not care whether their child is male or female if they could only have one child, and among those who do express an opinion, it is equally divided between having a boy or a girl. Countries where only slight partiality for boys is observed include Great Britain, Singapore and Mexico. Iceland shows a slight preference for girls, although most adults in that country say that gender does not matter.
Gender preference is the one question asked in the International Gallup Poll on which men and women clearly differ. Men around the world show a relatively solid preference for boys, while women tend to have no preference or only a slight preference for boys. Men in some of the less well-developed countries surveyed are particularly partial to having boys, including Lithuania, Thailand, Mexico, and Colombia. However, on a relative basis U.S. men are also high on this measure, ranking fifth out of the sixteen countries.
While men have a solid preference for having male offspring, in only a handful of the countries -- Spain, Lithuania, and Mexico -- do women clearly prefer a girl rather than a boy.
Having Children is Highly Valued
A majority of adults in almost all of the countries included in the survey -- Germany and the U.S. being the exceptions -- say that having a child is necessary for them to feel personally fulfilled in life. This sentiment is more widespread in some countries, however, than in others. Approximately nine out of ten adults in Hungary, India and Taiwan agree with the statement that having children is necessary for fulfillment. The number agreeing is closer to eight in ten in Iceland, Thailand, Lithuania, and Singapore. Seven in ten feel this way in Guatemala, France and Colombia, with agreement closer to 60% in Mexico, Spain, Canada and Great Britain.
The two countries where less than a majority of residents say having children is necessary for their personal fulfillment are Germany and the U.S. This statement is agreed with by only 49% of Germans and 46% of Americans.
In almost all of the countries surveyed, men and women are equally likely to say that having a child is vital to their sense of personal fulfillment. The exceptions are the U.S. and Colombia, where men are about ten percentage points more likely than women to agree that having a child has this level of importance.
Ideal Number of Children Is Greater than the
According to United Nations statistics, the annual rate of world population growth peaked at about 2% in the early 1960s and has since been gradually slowing. The latest population figures indicate that the world's population is now growing by about 81 million people per year and the annual rate of growth has slowed to just under 1.5%. The U.N. cites desired family size as one of the key factors in world population trends, and partially credits a shrinking number of children desired by women for the slowing in population growth.
The Gallup International Poll records a wide range of opinions about the ideal family size. Even though most of the countries included in this study are highly developed (and not therefore the countries most associated with population growth), the preferred number of children is higher than the 2.1 children per woman that the Zero Population Growth organization estimates as the replacement rate.
The preference for larger numbers of children is particularly evident in Iceland, Guatemala and Taiwan , where the mean number is close to 3. Also on the high side are the U.S., France, Singapore, Mexico and Canada, where the mean number ranges from over 2.4 to 2.6.
In Thailand, Great Britain and Colombia, the average is slightly lower, ranging from 2.2 to 2.4. Only in Germany, Spain and urban India is the mean number close to the population replacement rate, ranging from 2.0 to 2.1.
Although population control efforts often concentrate on the preferences of women, the Gallup Poll finds that men and women within each country tend to agree on the ideal number of children for a family to have. To the extent that there are differences, such as in France, Singapore, and Lithuania, women have a slightly greater preference than men for larger families, defined as three or more children.
U.S. Trends on Ideal Family Size
According to trends recorded by the Gallup Poll in the United States, there have been dramatic changes in attitudes about family size in the United States over the last half century.
When preferred family size was first measured by Gallup in the U.S. in 1936, two thirds of Americans thought that three or more children were ideal, and the mean number of children preferred was 3.6. Those preferences held steady for the next three decades, through 1967. A poll conducted in 1973 recorded a substantial change -- with preference for three or more children declining to 51% and the mean number preferred dropping to 2.8. By 1980 the figures had dropped to 40% favoring three or more children, with an average number of 2.5. U.S. opinion on this issue has remained stable at this level since then.
Trends in U.S. preferences for family size are generally consistent with Census statistics over the same time period. In 1961 the actual fertility rate in the U.S. -- the number of children born per woman -- was 3.4. That fell to 1.7 by 1980, and is estimated at 2.1 for 1996.
Germans Rank First in Being
Broadly speaking, the Asian countries surveyed by Gallup in this study express the most traditional views on the family value questions asked, while Western Europeans and some industrialized nations hold the most non-traditional views.
Taking these four major family-value issues together (out-of-wedlock births; gender preferences; family size and the value placed on children) adults in the Western European nations of Germany, Great Britain and Spain tend to be consistently non-traditional in their views. A high proportion of adults in these countries prefer small families, have no gender preference for children, and are widely accepting of out-of-wedlock births. Compared to other countries, they are also among the least likely to say that having children is vital to their sense of personal fulfillment. Germans express the highest level of non-traditional views of any country in the survey.
At the opposite end of the cultural spectrum are Taiwan, India, Guatemala, Thailand, and Singapore, where most adults gave the more traditional responses to three out of Gallup's four questions. Adults in these countries indicate that having a child is vitally important to them, they have a solid bias in favor of boys and, compared to other countries, are much less accepting of out of wedlock births. However, perhaps because of population control efforts in developing nations, adults in Thailand, India and Singapore prefer smaller families, and are therefore somewhat less traditional in this regard.
The remaining seven countries give a greater mix of traditional and non-traditional responses to the four separate questions posed by Gallup. This middle group includes France, Iceland, Mexico, the United States, Hungary, Colombia, Lithuania and Canada.
This International Gallup Poll on Children was conducted in sixteen countries in Asia, Europe, North America, and Latin America, between February and May of 1997. The countries selected for inclusion were those in which The Gallup Organization currently operates a wholly-owned subsidiary and/or joint venture company, and where ongoing nation-wide public opinion surveys (as opposed to market research polling) were in place at the time of the study. These are Canada, Colombia, France, Germany, Great Britain, Guatemala, Hungary, Iceland, India, Lithuania, Mexico, Singapore, Spain, Taiwan, Thailand, and the United States.
Surveys in most of the countries are nationally representative, with the exceptions of India, Colombia and Mexico where interviews were restricted to urban areas.
Results from each country are based on samplings of the adult population, typically 1000 or more interviews with those aged 18 and older, and the data for each country have an associated sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points. More information about the study is available upon request.
Do you think it is, or is not, morally wrong for a couple to have a baby if they are not married?
|Note: "No opinion" omitted.|
What do you think is the ideal number of children for a family to have?
|0-2||3 or more|
|Note: "No opinion" omitted.|
Suppose you could only have one child. Would you prefer that it be a boy or a girl?
|Note: "No opinion" omitted.|
For you personally, do you think it is necessary or not necessary to have a child at some point in your life in order to feel fulfilled?
|Note: "No opinion" omitted.|